In my first spring at UA, my papermaking class went on the annual “kozo hunt”–our affectionate term for the harvest of the elusive paper mulberry tree. It’s also that one occasion where I get to use the machete that usually lives under my bed. In a process that’s much more pleasant when it isn’t January, we cut down tiny mulberry trees, cooked them, peeled off the bark, and proceeded to make paper from these fibers in the traditional Eastern way. The result was a beautiful paper that was strong, supple, and surprisingly transparent.
Transparent was exactly what I needed for part of my thesis. Kozo was the obvious solution. Though part of me felt adventurous thrashing through the brush and collecting little mulberry trees, I had to order fiber in order to maintain my sanity–the $40 was a bargain when I considered the two whole days it would take to harvest, steam, strip, and soak, and wash repeatedly.
I cooked the fiber on my kitchen stove in the biggest pot I could find. It was only after I dumped in the cup full of soda ash that I considered the possibility of passing out because of the chemical reaction and the lack of ventilation. (I should also say that earlier that evening, due to an unfortunate chain of events brought about by my friend whose car had run out of gas, said pot had a small bit of gasoline spilled in it. I had the good sense to scrub it out before I put it on the stove, but part of me still feared that I might be formally introduced to the nearest fire department when my apartment was a wreck and there was an ominous, bubbling pot of stinking fiber boiling over on the stove.)
After surviving the cook, I went to the mill to pull sheets and learned that I had two problems: 1) I forgot the retention aid, a substance akin to the slime on okra, which causes the fibers to properly bond and 2) Traditionally, kozo sheets are brushed onto boards and allowed to dry in the sun. (At school, our approximation is to brush the sheets onto the windows in the library. Folks put up with this for two days out of the year, but my edition of 200 sheets would likely be pushing it).
So, I pulled my kozo sheets western style. I left the chiri where it lay–persnickety folks pick out these dark bits of bark, but for me they added some kick. Also, these sheets would later be printed with black woodcuts, and so it seemed natural to leave some material that might create a transition from black ink to tan paper. (Have you ever tried to pick pepper out of potato soup? That’s about half as irritating as chiri-picking.)
The result: slightly thicker, more opaque paper. Lovely nonetheless, and perfect for layering memories and birds.